One would assume that with degrees in engineering (Princeton), Business (Harvard) & law (also Harvard) World Domination would sound like a legitimate career path. Ellen Pao was a first generation Chinese American whose parents taught her that she could accomplish anything with hard work and perseverance. She grew up believing that any challenge could be overcome when looked at as an engineering equation.
Ellen Pao’s book entitled Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change was as emotionally draining as it was engaging. Her experience pursuing and eventually losing a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, felt like a personal defeat. Pao turned down millions of dollars for her silence, before and after her trial, in order to tell her story, and i’m so grateful she did– as it is a story worth reading.
Reset is a painful reminder that you can be the most qualified candidate, with a world-class education, with the an intense work ethic, and still not rise in your career. These rules are written in invisible ink, and the system is designed for women and minorities to fail. The ideal candidate is a 26 year old white, male, ivy league dropout. Deals are still made in strip clubs and over strip steaks, without a single woman at the table. If she is invited to the meal, she’s certainly excluded from the lapdance. The (white) boys club is alive and well, despite laws that are meant to protect women from discrimination.
There were times where Ellen made me laugh, like when she discussed the insane amount of money billionaires spend planning for the apocalypse. What do they spend their money on? Lots of jets, and luxurious bunkers in New Zealand! Which, by the way, is the place to go when the world inevitably ends. While Ellen’s dry humor certainly leaves one entertained, I felt the urge to vomit more times than I found myself smiling. I found myself publicly sobbing on the subway by page 200, and continuing to do so for the remainder of the book.
Reset will confirm your fears that gender discrimination is more prevalent than you thought it was. Pao tried to Lean In! She followed Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and sat at the table, avoided the sidelines, and spoke up whenever possible. Despite being a self-described introvert, she made it a point to assert herself. In return, she was regarded as uptight and cold. She internally reported a colleague for sexual harassment. She later found out this same colleague invited another woman in the company to a meeting that didn’t exist, just to get her alone in a hotel. That woman was told that she should be flattered. This is just one of hundreds of examples of sexism in Reset. It doesn’t take long before the reader understands why Ellen needed to sue. Otherwise, change wasn’t an option.
I anticipated feeling empowered before reading Reset; similar to girl-power books like Bad Feminist, Girl Boss or Lean In. Instead, you should expect angry, frustrated tears. Plan for nausea. By the end of Ellen Pao’s memoir I felt a fire burning inside me. Though her defeat felt personal, her perseverance inspired. Reset was an emotional rollercoaster, sinking stomach and all, but you won’t regret taking the ride.
Thank you to the Random House social media team for sending me this novel to read!